Churches are a business, albeit with a totally different foundation than commercial organizations. Like most commercial businesses, churches have budgets, staffs, and concerns such as maintenance, insurance, and missions. In the business world most day to day issues are handled internally by committees or individuals who have been designated to various respective areas of responsibility. To some extent this is also true as to church organizations.
However, there are issues that can and do arise in churches which cannot and should not be decided internally. As an example, I facilitated a settlement agreement between a local congregation and its nationally known parent body. The issue was based upon doctrinal change by the national organization and the congregation’s unwillingness to follow the new direction. Rather than being involved in litigation with its unfavorable results for both parties, an amicable solution was reached and both sides of the issue were satisfied with the result of the local congregation being able to dissolve its relationship with the national organization.
Too often internal issues can become divisive. Budgetary questions such as repair, expansion of facilities, and mission giving become “hot button” issues. Issues that immediately come to the fore are compensation for staff and the retention or reduction of staff. These areas often go outside the organizational boundaries. Because parishioners have developed relationships with members of a staff, any issue which would personally affect a staff member has the potential for being supported and/or opposed by members of the congregation. If there is no immediate resolution to this type of situation. the factions can become polarized to the extent of becoming personal with the result being a divided congregation. The mentality of this situation is, “we win, they lose.” Not a good thing. It is this type of circumstance where mediation can give control to the disputing parties, can provide an atmosphere for healthy communication, creates a sense of satisfaction with the resolution and preserves valuable relationships.
Mediation is truly an opportunity for disputing parties to move forward in a healthy, satisfying manner. The process creates a sense of teamwork that can lead to a better situation on the other side of the dispute. The inability of parties to create a satisfactory resolution leads to a loss of relationships and a commonality of purpose.